"Peggy's going to be pissed," Shelby stated as she pulled a strand of string cheese off with her fingers and shoved it into her mouth.
"It was a last minute thing," I replied with a shrug. "He just felt bad for me."
Shelby leaned back in her chair and squinted her eyes at me. There was a long pause before she spoke. "I can't figure him out. What was his angle inviting you out? Did he try anything?"
"No!" I exclaimed almost a little too loud. I quieted my voice before continuing. "It wasn't like that. There's nothing to 'figure out.'"
I waited almost a full week to come clean to Shelby. It felt weird keeping my night out with Pete a secret. Now, I kind of wish I had.
Pete didn't bring the night up and neither did I. It was kind of a thrill having this little secret, though that thrill put thoughts in my mind that I would've rather repressed, such as how hot a different secret between us could be...
"Besides," I continued to Shelby. "I'm going out with that guy again."
"Really?" Shelby asked.
I narrowed my eyes at her and immediately got defensive. "Why wouldn't I?"
"I don't know," Shelby continued as she uncomfortably shifted her body weight. Maybe I was being too mean. "You didn't seem that excited by him."
I sighed. "I mean, I honestly wasn't," I replied. "But he called, he was polite, he seems like somebody I could really like."
I had talked to Anna about my first experience with online dating, which felt like so long ago now but was really less than two weeks ago. I whined to her that I wasn't ready to date and she smacked me with some tough love.
"Just put yourself out there," she aggressively replied. "Even if it's just a distraction, you need to be meeting guys. Otherwise, I know you're going to stalk Scott on social media and drool over your boss from afar. This isn't a negotiation, Caroline. Trust me here."
I knew she was right, so when Mark, the teacher that I got coffee with, texted me saying that he had a great time and he wanted to take me out to dinner soon, I agreed without much hesitation.
It was Fall at this point, but in California, I wasn't wearing any of my usual Fall clothing. I threw on a floral dress and ordered an Uber to take me to a tapas restaurant Mark had suggested.
Mark was waiting at the bar with a barely touched beer in his hand. "Hey, you," he greeted me with a kiss on my cheek. "Wanna see if our table's ready or have a drink first?"
I shrugged and my stomach almost simultaneously growled. I prayed he didn't hear it as I replied, "I'm ready to sit if that's good with you." Why couldn't I shake this unnecessary trait of never wanting to just say what I actually want instead of trying to be as agreeable as possible?
"Let's see if the table's ready," he responded before making his way to the hostess stand. He told her we had a reservation before giving his last name. Perfect. Now I had his last name for social media stalking purposes.
"Right this way," she said.
We sat down in at a small table. They were all really close together but luckily nobody else was at the adjacent table yet. We ordered a round of drinks as soon as the waiter came by.
"So, how was your day?" Mark asked with a relaxed smile. How can anybody be so relaxed on a date?
"It was okay," I replied. "Boring," I added, with a laugh. It was the truth. Sure, I love California, but it still isn't home. I had my routine on Saturdays: wake up, take a walk to the beach by myself, and then go grocery shopping and run any other errands I had. "Yours?"
"Good!" He replied. "I got some home improvements done that were long overdue."
"Right," I began. "I forgot you have a house. How do you like the suburbs?"
Mark laughed before diving into a semi-rambuncious rant about how he loves his space and everything is too crowded in the city. "Maybe next time we get together, I can cook you dinner and show you the beauty of my little neighborhood."
I smiled as I felt my cheeks getting red. "I'd like that," I replied. At this point, I still wasn't sure if I wanted to see him again, but I wasn't lying when I said I'd like to see his home. I still hadn't seen nearly enough of this place.
We ordered dinner and our conversation continued with ease. While I was nervous, I found it really easy to talk to Mark. I never really realized how important that was until I first broke up with my first boyfriend and experienced the discomfort of silence on a first or second date. Flowing, easy conversation is so essential. I figured Mark would be a good way for me to "test the waters" of online dating, but maybe I would get luckier than that.
Mark paid the bill and then asked if I wanted to grab a drink at another bar. I agreed. It was a little too early to end the night there.
After another glass of wine, I was ready to call it a night. I told Mark I was going to order an Uber. He offered to take me home, but I was still somewhat uncomfortable with the idea.
"I completely understand," he replied. "Let me wait with you outside."
We stood on the curb as I waited for the Uber. "I had a really great time tonight, Caroline."
I began to feel butterflies as I knew what was about to happen. "Me too."
With that, he reached a hand down below my chin and lifted up my face to kiss me.
I was back in the game.